Tuesday, 22 April 2014

The evolutionary base for littering.

I kneel to no man when it comes to my hatred of littering. From my window I can see a well littered area and watch as cars draw up at traffic lights and throw things out of the window. The problem is that littering seems to be universal barely contained, from our first step onward we seem likely to discard things at the first possible opportunity.
The obvious motivation is simply to get rid of something which we no longer need and which can be of no further use and which carrying around will use energy and prevent us from picking up something else. However, it isn't to our advantage to discard things in the immediate vicinity of our home, discarded food may attract predators or act as a reserve for bacteria or other pathogens.
There may be some positive benefits for certain elements of untidiness. It is often noted that other creatures distribute the seed of plants in their faeces, humans would do the same and additionally when discarding part eat fruit, off the foraging tracks, we sow the seeds of future food sources within easy reach of existing tracks, possibly the beginnings of gardening.
If littering is a deeply ingrained, evolutionary tested strategy, the fact that it has become inconvenient is going to be difficult to deal with. It does make the problem of dealing with littering considerably more difficult to deal with than just some lately acquired habit.
The strategy has become dangerous and counterproductive for several reasons, the density at which we live, the removal of wild animals at first caused problems as the removal of the rest of the ecosystem made their life impossible, then as our levels of waste became higher, the animals that came back in great numbers as they were able to live on our waste.
The only way to truly counter litter is to trigger the instincts that prevented us from littering around our owns homes and expand that area, your guess how to do that is as good as mine.

Saturday, 19 April 2014

Here be Dragons

In the not too recent past, large blanks where a feature of any globe. There are still places no one has been on the ground, but we have photographs of them from space, the same isn't true under the sea. Despite Google Earth's course depiction of the seabed, we know very little of the detail.
The common conception of the sea, is limited to the surface, only the most ingrained oceanographer will consider the volume of the sea as a matter of course. For some of us stories of people swimming from liners, in the deep ocean, may suddenly induce a queasy feeling and the sensations associated with being in some inappropriate situation. Suddenly likening ourselves to hovering 4 miles up in the sky, without a parachute or perhaps trapped half way through a trap door with our feet dangling into the darker parts of Mordor.
The search for the unfortunate remains of MH370 have brought a lack of thought and lack of comprehension by the public to the fore. Frequent slightly unhinged call claiming it is madness that we know more about the Moon or Mars, than the depths of the sea. We do have some good photos of the surface of Mars, but that is about it, considerably more is known about the composition of the surface of the bottom of the sea, multiple samples have been returned from the deep, the first man-made object to reach the bottom of the Challenger deep and return to the surface, may only have been a lead weight, but it was in 1875. So far, nothing has been returned from further away than the moon.
Travelling in space involves going from a pressure of 1 atmosphere, on the surface to zero in space. That means that the spacecraft has to resist the gas inside from pushing out the walls, the gas is pushing out at 1.033 kgf per square centimetre. As a submarine dives, for every 10 meters it goes down, it has to resist the water pushing in at an extra 1.033 kgf per square centimetre. That is a submarine at 10 meters is resisting a pressure the same as a spacecraft in orbit at 20 meters it is resisting twice as much. The Challenger Deep is 10,916m deep, so down there, to maintain 1 atmosphere for the crew, the submarine has to resist some 1,091 times the pressure of a space ship. It has to do this while being able to float, if you want to get back to the surface.
There have only been 2 manned visits to the Challenger deep, one by the Bathyscaphe’s Trieste in 1960 and one by James Cameron in his Deepsea Challenger. The bit which the pilot was in was a 1.1 m sphere with 64 mm thick walls of steel. To make a sphere of larger diameter takes thick walls. Several other visits have been made by remotely operated vehicles.
Unlike in space radio doesn't work and any communications with the surface have to be done via acoustic methods, which do not have very great bandwidths or by the use of a tether, which has to be very long, Even when you get down to the bottom you cannot see very far even with very bright lights, plus the only energy you have is what you brought with you as there as no solar panel will work. The Americans did have a nuclear DSV but that could only reach about 1000m, which is not deep enough for large parts of the ocean and any way NR1 has been scrapped.
The not seeing very far goes for on the way down as well, and a lot of life is suspended in the water. So you may miss the interesting bits.
If you do find something interesting and want to bring it back to the surface, you face a whole host of problems trying to keep anything alive or even faintly recognisable. Like humans diving to hundreds of feet the captives will either have to be kept at deep pressure or slowly depressurised otherwise they will quite likely explode on the way up.
While you won't have the wide variation in temperatures that occur in space you'll have a nice constant 3 Celsius to contend with, plus currents. While you will be well protected from radiation surrounded by all that water, the water is quiet corrosive and will be eating away at all your exposed systems.
In the deepest oceans, even the most complex of current survey ships like HMS Echo, with state of the art Multibeam echo sounders, would take an enormous amount of time to cover a significant area, and the resolution would be limited by the great depth. It seems unlikely anyone is likely to fund such an extensive survey of the worlds depths even then they would not tell us very much as it would miss out the content of the water column.
It may be a job that is more suited to autonomous underwater vehicles which could be sent out to record the depths, but would people be happy about any number of nuclear powered subs making their way around the world, without on board supervisions.
The one thing I am sure of is that we have the capability to analyse the data right now, it is not so super computer in the US Defense department or GCHQ but the crowd sourced power of humanity. Never before in human history has it been possible to apply such a large number of people to a single search problem and that capability grows with every day.
The analysis of the data would, by a big margin be, the most expensive part of the operation, but not if it is being done for free by citizen scientists, either by direct analysis or via distributed processor farming via BOINC. Even the funding to collect the data, while not incredibly cheap could be gained from crowd sourcing, we all rely on the sea in some way, whether it be for weather, food, recreation or transportation.
MH370 has pointed to a large blank in our knowledge, perhaps a crowd sourced solution can point us to a new way to do big science and fill in the blanks the public wants to fill in.
A figurehead needs to come forward to kick of the project perhaps James Cameron

Monday, 7 April 2014

Nae Loop then Nae programmer.

I write software, you develop applications, she is a programmer, he is a software engineer, that is a script kiddie and this is a coder. You are none of them, in fact, fuck knows what you are.
Way back at the dawn of time when the master computer clock was still 0, a very bright man developed the idea of the Universal Computing Engine, this machine could emulate any other machine and in order to do this it had to have some very basic functions, if it has those then it is said to be Turing Complete.
Computer instruction sets and programming languages can be Turing complete, things like HTML cannot be, never, ever, ever. You cannot be a coder/programmer/developer/software engineer if all you can use is HTML.
We do need to develop a name for these HTML writers. Well, actually two, one which they will use amongst themselves and one which us coder/programmer/developer/software engineers will use amongst ourselves. I suggest scrivener is the word we allow them to use, and that we use in their presence. It would be used as follows

(S)He is a scrivener.
They are scrivening.
Can you scriven this for me.

The rest of the time when only the grown ups are present I suggest scrawler in either sense.

(S)He is a scrawler.
They are scrawling.
Can you scrawl this for me.

The happy coincidence of the first syllable being them same means that it will easily be possible to change from saying one to saying the other, in the event of their being a scrawler in the room trying to work out how the kettle works.

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

A Vacuum on Dale Street.

EBC 81
The day started off quiet promisingly, but went down hill quite quickly, the way they do when you find that early morning call you dashed to answer was actually from HM Customs and Excise.
That was followed by finding out it had been a year since someone said they were organising a meeting and it still hadn't arrived or any further communications been replied to. Today, was going to call for at least 2 Belgian buns for breakfast.
Ever so slightly restored and sallied forth into the rest of the day, only to drift into a 4 Belgian bun state. As I had already blown the food budget on the first 2, it was off to Pound Bakery for these two.
Suitably reinforced I proceeded down Castle Street, uplifted by the architecture and the sight of a RIBA guide showing architects around. Down Dale Street my heart finally out of the gutter, then it happened. I saw the sign, I read the writing on the wall or more precisely in the window of PRS "closing down no reasonable off refused".
For those of you who live in a world where Tech Geekness is fashionable, shops like PRS mean nothing. For those of us born before the 80s, it is our Mecca, Fire Island, Cavern or N.E.M.S and more. Liverpool's music scene owns PRS a debt too, as they supplied some of the Thermionic Valves, at the heart of their amplifiers, and supplier of the Disco worlds light. Many a TV was repaired with a replacement parts from PRS.
In the 70s it was a few doors closer to the Magistrates court in the Georgian buildings that are in bits and on Saturday it and Soldier of Fortune where the only 2 shops open. Inside PRS was dark and smelled of damp, and as still does today, there were stacks of surplus stock and broken equipment for component salvaging. You could buy all your electronics needs and sit around and get a feeling of what it was like not to be judged for being a Geek. Were that staff would know the difference between an EBC81 and an ECC81 and that an EC135 was a helicopter.
The valve or Thermonic Valve is what the world ran on before transistors, it is still used in some very niche applications today. They gave out a warm red glow and consumed power like nobodies business. They didn't like being switched on or off, but left in either state, for very long time, would be very reliable. The provided all the electronics of WW2 and where the switches of the worlds first fully electronic digital computer, Colossus.
250KW Output valve 1982 by Nick Garrod
PRS is a blast from the past where an interest in electronics could isolate you from society and quite easily kill you. Valves do not glow because of the low current being passed through them.

The nearest I have ever come to a shop like PRS was in Norwich, which sold me a Z80 DART off the shelf, I still have it, as I never got around to building the rest of the system.